Does this French woman have Diana's kidney?
From IAN GALLAGHER, Mail on Sunday
08:35am 22nd May 2005
Transplant: Francoise Gaellar
Life passes slowly in the sleepy village of Espira de l'Agly in French Catalonia. It enjoys an enviable location between the Mediterranean and snow-capped Pyrenees, but in most other respects is largely unremarkable.
At least that was the case until one of its 2,500 inhabitants, Francoise Gaellar, the secretary at the local primary school, came forward with a most startling claim.
It was simply this: That on September 2, 1997, her life was saved by a kidney transplant - and the donor was Diana, Princess of Wales, killed two days earlier in a car crash in Paris.
Francoise certainly received a kidney at that time but it must be said that there is little hard evidence, beyond one or two coincidences of timing, that the organ had belonged to Diana. The authorities say Francoise must be wrong. Yet she believes her claim to the depths of her soul. And her local community is inclined to believe her.
The 38-year-old's story now threatens to become a major headache for the authorities, who have hitherto drawn a veil over what exactly happened to the Princess in the first few hours following the crash.
Francoise is already finding herself a reluctant subject of speculation; the more her story is repeated, the more pressure there will be for a full and official explanation.
The saga began in early 1997, when Francoise, then 30, was gravely ill and warned that she needed a kidney transplant or would die. She says her doctor told her the donor would have to be a woman of a similar age and build and that it might be some months before a kidney became available.
On the morning of September 2 Francoise received a phone call that answered her prayers. A match had been found. She was taken without delay by ambulance to the Rangueil University Hospital in Toulouse.
Diana had died two days previously, at the age of 36.
"On the way there a paramedic joked with me about the kidney coming from Princess Diana. He said I was going to receive Royal blood," Francoise told The Mail on Sunday.
"His words did make me think, though. I, like many others, was affected by Diana's death. She was a person I admired and at the time she was very much on my mind. I also think the timing was too much of a coincidence. Also the Princess had roughly the same build as me."
Francoise stands 5ft 8in tall while Diana was around 5ft 10in.
Under French law Francoise is not and never will be allowed to know the identity of the donor. At the hospital she was warned that it must remain a secret. "I just had a feeling the donor was Diana," she said.
The operation was a complete success and Francoise, who today enjoys good health, spent three weeks at the hospital recovering.
But she says something strange happened following her operation - she found herself peppering her conversation with English phrases.
"I found myself speaking English to my friends, something I don't normally do because I have no reason to," she says. "I cannot explain why I did this."
Is this evidence of a fanciful nature, or an indication she had indeed received an organ from an English-speaker? Improbable though it sounds, there are many documented accounts of organ recipients taking on characteristics of their donors.
Scientist Dr Paul Pearsall from the University of Hawaii, and colleagues Professor Gary Schwartz and Dr Linda Russek have studied transplant patients who claim to have taken on the personalities of their donors.
They reported that an 18-year-old girl who had a heart transplant suddenly developed a passion for music and poetry. Her donor had been an 18-year old boy who composed songs and poetry and had died in a motorbike accident. When the boy's parents played the songs to the girl, she was able to finish the phrases of some of the lyrics.
In another case, a woman who had just undergone a heart transplant said she could no longer stand the taste of meat. Before the operation it had been her favourite food. It emerged that the donor had been a vegetarian.
Scientists have termed this phenomenon 'cellular memory'. Professor Candice Pert, a molecular biologist, believes every cell has its own mind and, if transplanted, the cells of the first body carry messages into the second body.
At the school in Espira de l'Agly colleagues of Francoise insist she is not someone given to making outlandish claims. "I can see that people might listen to her story and think her crazy but I can assure you she is not," said one teacher. "She is a sensible young woman, calm and level-headed."
Her former headmistress, Jacquelan Djambaz, yesterday said it was 'quite possible' the kidney was Diana's. "Why not? Francoise is a sensible, intelligent woman, and the timings seem to match up."
She added: "This is meant to be a secret, but it appears that the secret has now become known."
What did happen to Diana's body?
And now that the secret is indeed out, it raises the wider question of what did in fact happen to Diana's body as it lay in La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital in Paris in the early hours of August 31, 1997. Were her organs removed?
Mohamed Al Fayed, the father of Dodi Fayed who was also killed in the Paris crash, certainly thinks so.
He has made public his belief that they were removed to prevent a proper post-mortem examination taking place - evidence, he says, that Diana and his son were victims of a plot involving British intelligence. Last week the British coroner who is overseeing the inquest into Diana and Dodi's deaths refused to say whether or not her organs were removed.
Prince Charles's Press secretary similarly declined, saying it was a matter for the French medical authorities. And he said Francoise's claim was without credibility and not worthy of a response. In 1997 the law of presumed consent existed in France, which meant that organs could be removed from a body for use in transplants without the consent of the family. But the law did not apply to foreign nationals. For Diana's organs to be used, her family would have had to give their express permission. Whether this was given is simply not known.
Even if it was, the Paris-based Organ Procurement Organisation believes it unlikely that her kidney was used in a transplant so far from the capital.
A spokesman said: "Organs made available in Paris would go to locals because at any one time there are something like 1,000 people in Paris waiting for kidney transplants."
A spokeswoman for La Pitie Salpetriere Hospital said she did not know if Diana's organs were removed but added: "We have no record of Diana being involved in any form of kidney transplant.
"Because of bioethical laws and other considerations, it would have been impossible for this type of transplant to have taken place in a French hospital involving a British citizen, particularly when that person was the Princess of Wales."
Francoise and her friends in Espira de l'Agly remain unconvinced. And, as the investigations into Diana's death twist and turn, so her story acquires additional significance with every passing year, and adds to the many questions that remain one day to be answered.
Edited by Blackleaf, 23 May 2005 - 10:12 AM.